A/N - THIS is how I would have rather been introduced to Shining Armor and Princess Cadence, and how they developed the "power of love" that was able to vanquish Queen Chrysalis. This takes place around maybe a year or two before Twilight leaves Canterlot for Ponyville. I would definitely call this alternate universe, but it isn't way too different, just Shining Armor is a private instead of a captain, and some other things explained later.
The Royal Guard Academy of Canterlot; never before has ponykind witnessed so much raw, musky stallion (and the occasional mare) in one place. Only the finest, most ferocious, and physically fit are allowed to even so much as step hoof into its masculine halls. Within, a symphony of battle-cries, grunts, and muffled shouts of pain ring across the corridors, and reverberate throughout every training, weight, and combat simulation room.
The sources of these noises, former and aspiring warriors of all ages and races, earth, pegasus, and unicorn pony, fought against and along side their comrades in what were supposed to be pretend battles, though many would say that "pretend" was not a strong enough descriptor for the aches and bruises they would receive from them. This was a school of hard knocks, and that does not only apply to its traditionalism. It was a school for the physically intelligent, ruthlessly unforgiving, and those who wished to vanquish the enemies of the state.
Private Shining Armor...however...was none of these.
Sure, he had graduated from the academy, and passed the bare minimum of his requirements with all of the grace and finesse of a beached whale, but the young lad had never been the iconic figure of a Canterlot guard or soldier. Shining Armor was very permissive, even submissive, to the rest of the trainees, which ended up making him stick out like a dragon's sore claw. He didn't see many reasons to be angry, or aggressive, or to pick fights all of the time, contrary to the hobbies of many a roommate he would have in his quarters, much to his distaste.
The white unicorn was a stallion who loved nature more than the battlefield. While his very few buddies went out drinking, flirting, and asserting their superiority over each other in hoof-wrestles and pain games, Armor would take relaxing strolls through the forests close to his barracks. On these little excursions, he would revel in the light scents of seasonal flowers, made even better after a small rain shower, and try to gingerly coax a rabbit, squirrel, or other tiny woodland creature out of hiding so that he might be able to pet it. Given his naturally quiet, subdued demeanor, many such animals allowed him the pleasure of rubbing his hoof softly on their heads and backs until they would be distracted by a potential predator or meal.
Shining Armor was an introvert, which encouraged his work in such personal interests as writing and art. Though, being the non-conformist of his barracks made these passions difficult to cultivate. Not a day would go by that he wouldn't hear from his roommates or their friends that they had "accidentally" completely destroyed paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts full of prose and poetry alike, all his own creations. How many hours, days, months even, had he poured his heart and soul into them, only to be scrap heaps by the time they were finished? Then again, every time it would happen, Shining Armor wouldn't scream, he wouldn't beat them up, he wouldn't show much of any emotion, opting, instead, to not confront the perpetrators. Many tears were shed for them, but that was in private. More harassment would ensue should anyone find him in that position.
For someone as sensitive, humble, and peace-loving as Private Armor, one might be wondering why in the world he would join a brotherhood of the toughest bunch of roughnecks anypony could ever know. Sometimes, he wondered the exact same thing. From his own point of view, he supposed that if he could ever find a locale to have a steady job in, the great outdoors was the best it could ever get. As a soldier in the Royal Guard, his office was expansive, boundless, and picturesque.
His parents may have had some hoof in this as well, as his dad was a retired soldier in his youth, and thought it would be a marvelous opportunity for Armor to learn some discipline, something he had been substantially lacking at home, apparently. Of course, his dad was a desk jockey for most of that tour of duty, but nevertheless was quite loyal to the sacred brotherhood that had shaped his formative years.
Although Armor and his father clashed on many fronts, a warrior and poet would have a multitude of topics to disagree on, his mother and his dear little sister, Twilight, couldn't stand to see him leave the roost only to be endangered by the intense training involved in the academy, of which he would be staying at the barracks for the remainder of his service. War was a far-off possibility, but the threat was there, looming over the heads of his loved ones he left behind. As a member of the guard, he could be called at any time to sacrifice himself for the good of Equestria.
Twilight was the most affected of all. It clenched Shining Armor's heart, all throughout his training, to hear that Twilight was having horrible nightmares because of his absence. Once he was out, he would have to give her the biggest hug a brother could give, and let her know that everything was alright.
In fact, he was just getting ready to do that right now as he awoke one morning to the rising sun in the east, a far-off rooster crowing in the distance. He was all smiles and bounce as he remembered that today he would be heading home to show his little sister that he was still all in one piece, and to rub in his dad's face that he COULD and DID make it through the rigorous tests, despite his track record of failed jobs and college dropout status.
He looked up to find his bunk-buddy, another one of those "rough and tumble" characters, snoring loudly in his sleep, a black-eye adorning his pale-yellow, unicorn face. Must've gotten into a fight at the bar last night, which would make him pretty normal around these parts.
Shining Armor was too giddy about today to dwell on him for long, smiling to him even though he was asleep. Cantering slowly into their shared restroom, Armor made with the daily grooming regimen that the academy had literally beaten into his head countless times before. He didn't particularly enjoy it, much preferring to go scraggly every once in a while, but this was a special day too, so he didn't have any room in his heightened mood to fuss.
After a brisk cleansing, though only up to sub-par standards compared to what the Guard would demand, he walked over to his barracks room door, opening it and stepping out into the cool, misty morning air. He sucked a great, big breath through his nose and sighed it out appreciatively. With the foggy, red and orange-tinted daylight peeking through the horizon, Armor threw his hooves out and bellowed ecstatically.
"GOOD MORNING, OH BEAUTEOUS WORLD!"
Unfortunately for Armor, it seemed as if others in the barracks might have disagreed...
"HEY, ARMOR, KEEP IT DOWN OUT THERE! SOME PONIES ARE TRYING TO CATCH SOME SHUT EYE!"
In the Canterlot Palace throne room, countless numbers of stallions sat to either side of the red carpet placed on the central walkway toward the thrones, where Princess Celestia awaited an impending event with calm, regal patience. Many of these stallions socialized with one another, whether to ease their tension or exchange business cards. Some wrung their hooves together in nervous anticipation and apprehension. Some looked collected and cool, as if not really giving a care about whatever was going to happen soon. This event looked to be the entire reason for their being there today, based on the row by row seating arrangement they were situated in.
From one side of the room, a unicorn mare stepped in front of the princess, most likely to give some kind of announcement. The light, lime green of her coat clashed only slightly with the steel blue of her mane and tail, almost seeming like a blue-streaked white, styled youthfully, cascading down but slightly bouncy. Her eyes were a soft gray, complimenting the metallic sheen of her mane. As she cleared her throat to get their attention, they turned to stare at her. It embarrassed her a little, all of the males' eyes fixed on her, some seeming to scan her body unabashed at their own behavior, which was troubling to say the least. However, she hovered the parchment with her lines in front of her, and did what she came for.
"Stallions of Equestria, her majesty, Princess Celestia, and all of us here in the palace thank all of you for coming. We are pleased to announce that Her Highness' niece, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, has requested your presences in order to find a potential suitor for marriage."
A small uproar went through the crowd as the excitement was too much to contain. A princess of Equestria was asking for the hoof in marriage of one lucky stallion? This was only too good to be true for some of them.
"Please...gentlecolts," the green unicorn shouted calmly to try to quell the vocal momentum. She was able to quiet them down after a minute, and continued with the speech, "Our princess will meet with each one of you, face to face, for individual dates, where you will all be given equal opportunity to prove your suitability as her husband, which she will decide upon at a later interval. There will be a few ground rules to follow on these dates that we will inform you of soon, but without further ado, I am pleased to present to you - Princess Mi Amore Cadenza!"
As if on cue, a hollow creak came from the double doors behind the seated bachelors. They all turned their bodies and heads to get a better view of what was going on, and whoever had opened the door. A dignified, poised female figure sauntered purposefully along the red carpet toward the green mare. The crowd of stallions were struck silent as they gazed in awe at the gorgeous, pink young mare, her triple-toned mane and tail swaying gently with her hoof-steps. Her violet eyes were set dead ahead of her, not wanting to break the regal posture Celestia had suggested she take for this announcement. The insistent sensation of holes burning through her body at the stares of the gentlecolts overtook her, but she didn't dare look one way or another. No emotion could be discerned from her face, as she wanted to give off more of an official, royal vibe, instead of her actual self, who would've fainted at the prospect of so many handsome colts vying for her affection.
In contrast to the beauty before them, some of the males could be heard giving off soft whistles, while some could barely dampen their appreciative hums at the sleek figure of the princess. Physically, they certainly agreed that she deserved the title.
Once she had come to the other unicorn mare's side, she turned around and, for the first time, regarded them all with a cordial smile while bashfully waving a hoof to them. In her naturally sweet voice, she spoke with kind professionalism.
"Hello everypony, it is so nice to see all of you today. As my assistant here has stated, I am in search of a special stallion whom I can share a loving bond with, and eventually think about making my husband. Today, I would like to take some time getting to know each of you a little bit, so that I can make a more concrete decision on which of you will be considered for the next stage, and which of you I will have to regretfully turn down. One on one, I would be happy to answer any personal questions you might have for me, as long as they are in good taste. Otherwise, feel free to mingle for a little while here in the throne room. We have refreshments set up to the sides of your seating arrangements, and I encourage you to get to know one another just as much as you might want to get to know me."
In a perfect world, that last statement may have worked out better, but as it was, the seated stallions practically jumped from their seats to speak to the lovely princess after she was finished. The lime-green unicorn from before attempted to calm the rowdy bunch yet again along side the alicorn, but this would turn out to be a much more frantic little soiree than anypony would have predicted. Princess Cadence was, indubitably, quite the catch, and it showed in the mannerisms of every male piling on top of each other to be first in line.
Princess Cadence all but slammed the massive double doors behind her, desperate to get away from the stallions that had constantly bombarded her with questions, comments, and compliments from the first agonizing minute, all the way to the indeterminate amount of time that had lapsed since.
She blew a stray, almost ratty, puff of her mane out of her face frustratedly that had become worse for wear in the stuffy, sweaty environment. She stood there, barring the doors with her body for a second, just in case an over-zealous admirer wanted to break through. She was definitely not up to anymore conversation or flirting, of which was usually one-sided, directed at her, at this point.
Sensing no further danger from the gaggle on the other side, Cadence stomped briskly toward her aunt Celestia, who was seated at a small, round table, enjoying some of the refreshments that had been served in the throne room. Celestia looked up from her snack, humorously noting that Cadence did not look one bit pleased.
"Geez, Aunt Celestia, you sure can pick'em!" Cadence was fuming and gritting her teeth lightly to show her aunt her displeasure with the entire turn-out.
Although Celestia tried to show her genuine concern for the blunder that had ensued at Cadence's expense, she couldn't help but grin at her niece's little snarl, "Why, my dear Cadence, I'm not sure what you are referring to! I only brought the richest, most handsome, and most powerful stallions to be your husband. Nothing's too good for my cute, little niece."
"I'm trying to be serious here, Auntie!" Cadence stamped a hoof to reiterate her mood, "Those stallions were nothing but thieves, hot-heads, and pigs! One of them even rubbed up against my flank!"
"Oh, one of them was feeling frisky, was he?" Celestia chuckled, "If only I had been there to see it..."
"Now now, Cadence," the white mare became a tiny bit more serious, "they were all personally hoof-picked based on the criteria you gave me. I can't be held responsible for their actions or...personal hobbies when I was simply doing what you had asked of me."
Realizing her possible mistake, Cadance huffed slightly in defeat, softening her glare just a tad, though she was no less angry. "I guess...money, brawn, and prestige just aren't the things I'm looking for, well, not the ONLY ones at least."
She shifted a little closer to her aunt who had partially resumed her midday snack, "I want to marry a stallion who is caring, generous, somepony who loves things like art and poetry. You know, I talked to each and every one of those colts in there," she demonstrated with her hoof to the doors, "and not one of them could recognize any classic poems I recited, even a little bit!"
"Well to be fair to them," Celestia tried to speak through eating, something she would only do in front of family...and maybe not even then most of the time, "they didn't make their millions, billions of bits becoming poets and pondering the wonders of the universe. They worked hard through various trade and business schools, climbed company ladders, and proved to the world that their products and services are worth investing in. If emotional sensitivity was something you were looking for, most of those stallions out there are not it, as it really didn't fit with their career descriptions."
The pink alicorn pondered that for a moment, her anger simmering into disappointment, "I guess business-ponies aren't really my type, though being a princess, I'm assuming the public expects me to marry into money, fame, and not much else..."
Celestia gave her a wry smile, understanding Cadence's disdain for being in the public eye all of the time, "...It would appear that way, unfortunately, Cadence. If it were completely up to me, I would allow you to date and marry whomever caught your fancy. In this case, I cannot promise that there wouldn't be ill consequences should you not be wedded to a stallion of noble or wealthy birth."
As much as Cadence wanted to hotly object to such nonsense, she could certainly see it all now. 'Princess Mi Amore Cadenza marries local wino! Her only reasons being that he makes great trash sculptures and philosophically mulls over "the meaning of life"!' The very thought made her plop down into a nearby chair and put her head in her hooves with exasperation. Why was it that the mentally stimulating were also such...commoners? Could she ever find what she was looking for in somepony who was strong, yet kind, noble, yet charitable, a stallion of action, yet a sensitive thinker? The more she dwelt on it, the more impossible such prospects became to her. She did not mind having high standards, but so few ponies actually fit that elusive bill.
"Aunt Celestia?" Cadence didn't bother raising her head, still in her forelegs.
"What is it, dear?" the princess sipped her tea quietly.
"...Is there any, ANY possibility that I could find somepony else that would fit the description I just gave you?..."
Celestia set her teacup down lightly, thinking about the multitude of requirements Cadence had set forth for her future husband. It was not an easy task bringing the bunch that were still probably wandering the throne room or going home now, as they had more or less been the most fitting for her niece in all of Equestria. Why did the young mare have to have such strenuous prerequisites?
There was ONE more candidate that Celestia had neglected to bring, mostly because the lad's own father had been uneasy about marrying him off so soon. They weren't of a noble family, though their service to the crown had been exemplary, and his father had been under-confident in his son's ability to be the perfect husband he felt Cadence deserved. However, it seemed that it was the right time to pull out the big cannons, since she was running out of options. She would try to make it up to his father later.
"...There is one other I did not wish to mention before, but feel I should now. You do remember my second-in-command, Captain Broadlance, do you not Cadence?"
Cadence vaguely remembered the old Captain of the Guard. He was always pretty stuffy, and was a pony of very traditional convictions.
"Well, I was thinking that his son, Sterling Spear, would be a fine candidate. He's strong, brave, and from what I hear was afforded a classical education, in which he received honorable mention for his class projects. Furthermore, he's a fetching young colt. He may not be nobility, but with the efforts and loyalty of his family, he may as well be."
"Hmmm..." the pink mare put her hoof on her chin in thought, "...I suppose I could give him a shot. Can't be any worse than these suitors were."
"That's the spirit," Celestia giggled at Cadence's lack of optimism, "I think you'll really like him. I have met him face to face before, and although he can be a little...intimidating sometimes, I'm sure he'll be more than grateful for the chance to win your affections."
"That sounds just fine then," Cadence was still skeptical, but didn't question her aunt's wisdom too much, as desperate times often call for desperate measures, "would we be able to meet with him right away?"
Celestia was only more than happy to oblige, "I do not see why we couldn't meet him down near the training grounds right now, where he usually is at this time of the day, from what I hear."
She rose from her seated position, motioning with a hoof for the other alicorn to follow close by, "Come, I think you will be delightfully surprised!"
Cadence also jumped out of her own seat to walk by Celestia's side. They started to make their way outside, the white mare holding the door for her niece. Although she was eager at the thought of finally finding "the one", she was mildly suspicious, and she still had to keep telling herself, 'What's the worst that could possibly happen?'
A coat the color of desert sand housed powerful muscles propelling a pegasus stallion through his hoof-race with a blueberry-hued earth pony.
"Is that the best that you've got, Sea Breeze?" the pegasus taunted his opponent. He was neck in neck with the other stallion, but everypony watching the race knew that the pegasus was holding back a lot. The earth pony, however, was sprinting with everything that he had to come out victorious against his senior by one year.
Huffing and sputtering, the earth pony bit back at the cocky colt, "Shut up, Sterling Spear! I haven't even begun to race yet!"
Despite the big talk, Sea Breeze was sure that he would have a heart attack if he tried to pick up the pace any faster. Sterling Spear's emerald eyes glistened with confidence as he smirked, gently increasing his own speed to draw out the inevitable humiliation of his fellow soldier.
"Whatever you say, Breeze!"
Suddenly, Sterling jetted forward into a dead sprint. The difference in speed between the two was staggering as they both tore through the circular track. Sterling enjoyed the light wind whipping through his long ebony mane and tail as he zoomed past a crowd of onlookers, cheering one or the other on.
He spotted a few of the adoring female groupies he had accumulated over time. Being the captain's son and one of the strongest, most handsome stallions in the guard ranks could do that for you. They were swooning as he gave them a mischievous wink, unfurling his wings to full mast while he ran, strutting like a male peacock. He was one of those ponies who aggressively asserted his dominance and alpha status unashamed.
"He's SOOOO dreamy!" a light purple unicorn mare with a brown mane and tail bellowed like a little filly worshiping a pop idol, promptly fainting into the forelegs of another pegasus mare in full armor, no doubt a royal guard. She chortled at the antics of her obsessive friend, casually musing to herself.
"He's definitely not bad to look at, I'll give you that much."
Sterling crossed the nearby finish line much sooner than the blue earth pony had. Nopony really doubted it would turn out this way. The pegasus took great joy in trouncing his friends, enemies, and anypony else dumb enough to challenge him to anything. Even with his typically intense and earnest demeanor, facing contests he deemed worthy of his skill head on with solid determination, he afforded himself these little moments of glory where he got his kicks destroying opponents weaker than him.
Sea Breeze came up, sweating, panting, and angrily embarrassed, just as Sterling liked to see in his defeated rivals' eyes. He glared smugly at the stallion, who looked ready to demand a rematch.
"I could'a beaten you if I had done some extra reps in the gym today, Sterling!"
Sterling muttered darkly to himself, "Just keep telling yourself that, lard-flank..."
"Yeah, sure Sea Breeze, you were this close," Sterling put his front hooves almost together sarcastically, "...to passing out, that is."
If there were two things Sterling was to most ponies, they would have to be a physical and intellectual bully.
Sea Breeze, not being one to let his pride take quips like that lying down, continued to boast, "I was just...letting you win! Yeah, that's it! Didn't want to make you look like a pansy in front of your cheering squad!"
The hairs on the back of Sterling's neck bristled at his audacious claim. With a threatening growl he addressed Breeze so that nopony else could hear him, "You want me to toast you again in front of all of your little friends, Breeze? Bring it on, I'm waiting!"
Sea Breeze wasn't one to let a good fight go to waste, but the hard gaze Sterling gave made him think otherwise. Once his temper started to boil over, all of the guards, both recruit and veteran alike, knew not to mess with the captain's son. He cringed away only a little, trying not to look pathetic under the assault.
Luckily, one of Sterling's said groupies, the one who almost fainted, came over and starting gushing and cooing to her beautiful knight.
"Wow, you were incredible out there, Sterling Spear, not that I ever thought you wouldn't win!"
Sterling eased up a fraction on his racing victim, but he still had that warning stare about him, telling the earth pony not to mess with the pegasus. Although her friend had advised her not to do so, the light purple mare ended up grabbing onto his neck forcefully in a tight embrace. Sterling visibly tensed as she snuggled her face into his soft fur and rock-hard shoulder.
"PLEASE MARRY ME!"
The female guard pony on the sidelines face-hoofed at her friend's bold display that would probably force the stallion to sign a restraining order against her.
Sterling said not a word to the mare, still fuming at his opponent for sassing him. He shrugged her advances off like a wet towel, turning and storming off toward a rest area close to the training fields. Now, you might think that this kind of behavior would thwart most fillies, but...
"He's so stoic, so brooding!" the mare fawned over him, and continued the thought with fire in her eyes and a hoof to her face in conviction, "With my love, I'LL MELT HIS ICY HEART AND MAKE HIM SO HAPPY!"
Her friend couldn't believe what she was hearing, "Yeah, yeah, he's cute, but he ain't THAT cute."
Away from the field, and the renewed vigor in the stands for the next race that was starting, Sterling Spear dunked his face and mane into a vat of cold water. The chilly liquid abated his anger and helped him think clearer, not to mention felt fabulous after a brisk run. It wasn't much of one, but even heavily athletic pegasi got sweaty after some activity.
He sighed in contentment as he let the rivulets drip down his body. After a brief moment of relaxing silence, he turned back around to return to the training fields, but halfway through he almost took an involuntary leap. Right next to him, Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence had somehow materialized out of thin air while he wasn't aware.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Sterling Spear, I didn't mean to alarm you." Princess Cadence tried to assure him when she noticed his distress.
"It is no trouble at all, Princess Cadence," Sterling appropriately bowed to the stunning mare in front of him.
Cadence took a moment, now that they were face to face, as Celestia had shown him to her from afar not but a few minutes ago, to take in his form. Celestia did not exaggerate when she had said he was very fetching. The sandy, coffee complexion of his fur looked blissfully soft and even, clinging to his well-built frame from the dip he had just took. The long, black mane that flowed around his face majestically was similarly wet, and mysteriously half-hid his lustrous green irises, steely and serious. Although she wanted to refrain from roaming his body with her eyes, easy to get lost in, she took stock of his large, powerful wings, folded at his sides. Also, as customary, everypony is curious about the cutie mark on their flanks, and thus Cadence peeked, for purely informational purposes, mind you. The mark was, as his name suggested, a wooden spear with a steel arrowhead, pointed toward the ground, being slammed into it as a yellow, circular light curled around the point.
"Is there something the matter, Princess?"
As Cadence found herself at a small loss for what to say exactly, Celestia, behind the pink alicorn for moral support, nudged her gently, indicating that she strike up a conversation.
She took a few tentative steps toward the stallion and spoke up again awkwardly, "I was wondering if you would have a few moments to discuss some things with me..."
Sterling didn't often get caught off guard, and females were typically a dime a dozen for him, but the personal attention from a princess of Equestria was definitely not something one received everyday, nor was to be taken lightly. He found himself doing something he detested other stallions for when they conversed with mares that they found attractive, rubbing the back of his head with a hoof. Slightly disgusted with himself at the behavior, he no less kept most of his attention on the pink princess in front of him and with mechanical respect issued a question.
"...What would you like to know?..."